How to get your children to brush their teeth

Getting children to brush their teeth can be a massive challenge.
The unfortunate fact shows this that in the USA, 43.9% of children suffer some form of tooth decay. Although the principles of brushing your teeth are simple, the practicalities of doing it correctly are different.

Around age 6 or 7, children are taught by a dental professional how to brush their teeth. This teaching will be predominantly done verbally, with maybe a small amount of physical instruction. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing your child knows how to brush their teeth. Therefore, you may feel that all you have to do is make sure that they are doing it every day, and for at least two minutes each time.

How to get your children to brush their teeth. The importance of "deliberate practice" and "learning by feel."

The importance of “deliberate practice” and “learning by feel.”

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Instead, brushing your teeth is a physical skill, much like handwriting or sport. It cannot be taught verbally or even quickly. Effective tooth brushing requires “deliberate practice” and has to be learned by feel.

Both or these factors require parents to take a very active role in teaching their children how to brush their teeth. Instead of just having a dentist show them, and then leaving your child to it.

Deliberate practice

Deliberate practice involves practicing something with the set purpose of improving your ability in particular areas of whatever you are practicing. This process is by its very nature gradual, and almost always involves identifying and improving specific weaknesses in the way one does something through the supervision of a teacher.


If you want your child to employ deliberate practice when learning how to brush their teeth, its best not to just get the dentist to show your child how to brush their teeth.
Rather the dentist should teach you (the parent) how to show your child to brush their teeth.

A dentist does not have enough contact time with a child to supervise deliberate practice when it comes to tooth brushing, so the parent has to do it. However, a dentist can show you what to look out for when supervising your child brushing their teeth to ensure that they are doing it correctly.

This will allow you to identify if there are any aspects of brushing that your child is struggling with. The usual culprits are not brushing below the gum-line, and not brushing the back of their teeth. This practice can help them to improve these specific areas. Again, these improvements need to be taught and learned by feel.

Learning by Feel

The fact that tooth brushing needs to be learned by feel is a second reason why parents need to take quite an active role in teaching their children how to brush. To learn how to brush their teeth, your child needs to learn how brushing their teeth feels. They need to learn the sensation on their teeth. They also need to learn the feel of the movement their hand does while brushing.

This is a big ask, especially when you add in the fact that brushing each tooth requires a slightly different technique. So to teach your child the “feel” of brushing their teeth, its important that the learning process involves a lot of back and forth between yourself and your child.

Start by brushing your child’s teeth for a few seconds. Then, get them to try and mimic the sensation on their teeth. Guide your child’s hand as they brush each tooth to teach them how to grip and move the brush correctly.

The chances of your child being able to pick up these techniques straight away are slim-to-none. Expect a lot of back and forth between you and your child as they slowly learn how proper brushing feels. The amount of time this will take will vary from person to person, but be patient. When children are taught in this way, the habit will stick, so it’s well worth the effort.

Its also essential to ensure that your child spends adequate time brushing their teeth, and brushes regularly. Fortunately, there is a 7-step guide on how to get your children to brush their teeth in a way that makes all these important habits stick.

Dr Ron Baise

Dr Ron Baise is an Associate Dentist with over 30 years experience in dentistry. He works at 92 Dental, a practice in London, England.

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